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Tips for Heat-of-Summer Dog Training

Know what signs to look for to keep your hunting dog safe from heat-related illness during off-season training.

Tips for Heat-of-Summer Dog Training

Off-season training can be dangerous for hunting dogs in the heat of summer. (Shutterstock image)

It's summertime, and the weather is hazy, hot and humid. However, Opening Day is only a few months away, and if we want our dogs to be ready to roll, we’ll need to run them in the heat. Here’s how to train while avoiding Heat Related Illness (HRI).


Hyperthermia is when a dog's core body temperature rises above its normal 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit range.

There are two types of HRI: non-exertional and exertional. An example of non-exertional HRI is when a dog overheats when left in a car in the summer. Exertional HRI comes from running dogs when it’s hot.


Russ Kelley, science lead nutritionist at Eukanuba’s Pet Health and Nutrition Center, says sporting and working dogs dissipate heat in a variety of ways, with about 70 percent being dissipated through their skin. As we all know, they also cool down by panting, and Kelley adds that dogs get rid of heat through their noses and paw pads, too.

However, when outside temperatures are close to a dog’s body temperature, he says, it doesn’t cool down very easily.

The same holds true when it exhales hot air and inhales hot air. Add to this the fact that a dog’s nose has a small surface area, and calloused paws don’t allow it to perspire.

Then, Kelley says, you can better understand why these conditions make it hard for dogs to cool down this time of year. That’s why handlers should pay careful attention to their dogs when working them in the summer.


There are three stages of HRI: heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Each has some different signs, and being able to read these in your dog is key to early detection and treatment.

Stage 1: Heat Stress

Heat Stress Clinical Signs

  • Less animated behavior
  • Visibly tired or moving at a slower pace
  • Changes in the dog’s focus or readiness
  • Change in attitude (i.e., seems apprehensive)
  • Pasty saliva in the mouth
  • Increased thirst
  • Tongue excessively protruding with a flattened end
  • Cheeks pulled back revealing the full arcade of the teeth, including the molars
  • Feels overly warm to the touch
  • Brick-red mucous membranes
  • Excessive panting
  • Heat cramps or muscle spasms

Heat Stress Treatment

  • Take a break from the activity. Sit in a shady area with a cool breeze and provide your dog with lots of water.
  • Apply cool water to the paw pads and underbelly, both of which help reduce core body temperature.
  • Rinse out the mouth to remove the pasty saliva from the gums and tongue.
  • Since pasty saliva can be an early sign of heat stress, check the dog’s temperature with a rectal thermometer. If the temperature is elevated, soak a pad with rubbing alcohol and place on the pinnae of the ears, in the “armpits” and in the groin area. The alcohol placed in these areas will help cool the surface blood immediately.
  • Consult your vet for additional instruction.

Also note: Do not start working a heat-stressed dog until he is fully recovered. Even then, it might be best to rest your dog until the following day.


Stage 2: Heat Exhaustion

Heat Exhaustion Clinical Signs

Any of the signs from the first stage, plus:

  • Weakness or stumbling
  • Mentally aware but too tired to react
  • Excessive panting becomes uncontrollable
  • Significant thirst
  • Sunken, dry eyes
  • Lack of skin elasticity
  • Dry mouth, gums and nose
  • Vomit or diarrhea
  • Muscle tremors

Heat Exhaustion Treatment

  • It's best to get your dog to a veterinarian.
  • Before heading to the vet, place your dog on her side on a cool, wet towel. Placing her in a dog box with poor air circulation isn’t a good idea.
  • Apply cool water to the paw pads and underbelly.
  • Rub alcohol-soaked pads on the pinnae of the ears, "armpits" and groin area.
  • Absolutely do not put the dog in extremely cold water.

Also note: Never put ice on the dog's skin. That extreme cold causes surface blood vessels to shrink and increases the risk of both dehydration and heat stroke.

Stage 3: Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke Clinical Signs

Any of the signs from the first and second stages, plus:

  • Significant slowness or lack of coordination
  • Weakness in the hind end
  • Wobbly and unsteady
  • Unresponsive or confused
  • Incessant or noisy panting
  • Dark urine or lack of urine
  • Seizures
  • Head tremors
  • Shock
  • Collapse
  • Coma
  • Heat Stroke Treatment
  • Get your dog to the nearest vet immediately.
  • Follow the before-mentioned actions from Stage 2 before you begin your drive to the nearest vet
Hunting dogs at Water Dish
Get your dogs plenty of water helps prevents dehydration and heat-related illness. (Photo by Angela Keer)


Six tips to keep in mind for summer dog training

  • The 140 Rule: Add the air temperature and humidity percentage. If the sum is over 140, think about doing finish work instead of conditioning.
  • Open-Air Concept: Work dogs in open spaces where air circulation is better.
  • Shady Setups: Keep dogs staked out in the shade so they don’t get hot before a workout.
  • Water Works: Work your dog through water when you’re running him. Water cools seven times faster than air, so let dogs splash in a pond or stream. It’s good exercise, too. Hold off on letting hot dogs get into super-cold water, though. The shock may be too much.
  • Finish Strong: Very hot days can be a great time for finish work. Birds and checkcords, woah tables or placeboards for steadiness, and short retrieves are all good ways to prep for the season without potentially causing dogs to overheat.
  • Morning Run: Do any conditioning work during the coolest time of the day, which is usually before sunrise.

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